December 15, 2008

Lushootseed in public schools

Teaching Indian languages preserves heritage, tooIn Washington, tribes have formed partnerships with school districts and the state to reach tribal and nontribal kids in public schools. As of the 2006-07 school year, 14 instructors were certified by tribes to teach language in the public schools. Tribes work with school districts to fit language classes into the school day.

"It's a priority," said principal Teresa Iyall-Williams at Tulalip Elementary. Language instruction boosts native students' achievement, she said. "It increases engagement when they are able to see themselves in the curriculum."

Non-Indian students benefit, too: At Port Angeles High School in Clallam County, where the student body is about 97 percent nonnative, Lower Elwha Klallam language instructor Jamie Valadez has since 1999 taught Klallam as one of the elective languages any student can take. Her classes are made up not only of students from Lower Elwha and other tribes but nonnative teens curious to learn.

"It is just something they are interested in and enjoy, they are fascinated with learning about the native culture," Valadez said.

Learning another language also hones her students' knowledge of English grammar and syntax, which they use to decode and build sentences in Klallam.

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